Super Bowl Host Committee Juggles Volunteers and Corporate Sponsors

KGO-TV Jennifer Olney
February 3, 2016

Just about everything connected with the Super Bowl is sponsored by a corporation, big companies paying big bucks to be part of the action, but thousands of people working to make Super Bowl events run smoothly are not getting paid.

Volunteers are everywhere at Super Bowl City in San Francisco. They are easy to spot in bright orange jackets. They offer directions, snap photos, even help people figure out crazy electronic football games.

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Despite all the corporate money being spent, more than 5,000 people answered the call to work for free, both at Super Bowl City and around the Bay Area where they provide transportation advice.

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Volunteers had to commit to at least three four-hour shifts. In return they got backpacks and uniforms. Some, including David Torres of Brentwood, are so dedicated they actually started working months ago. “I started as a screener, so I started screening the first batch of volunteers, a lot of them which are now working with us.”

Mary Anne Drummond of Carmel has already put in more than 200 hours. She says the whole operation is “a great statement to the fact that volunteerism is not dead.”

But even if volunteers are having a great time, employment lawyer Jahan Sagafi says these types of events walk a legal tightrope because of California’s strict labor laws. “There’s a big question as to whether it’s a civic activity or it’s a corporate activity. If it’s for commercial benefit, then the sponsors are running the risk of running afoul of the employment protections and the volunteers really should be getting paid.”

The volunteers are actually organized by the Super Bowl 40 Host Committee, not the National Football League or corporate sponsors. Alissa May, the Host Committee director of volunteers, told ABC7 the committee is careful to stay within the labor laws. “We are not a money-making machine. We are a non-profit. We draw a very clear boundary between the corporate sponsors and what the volunteers do.”

Sagafi takes issue with the committee’s requirement for volunteers to sign a wide-ranging waiver, agreeing to “final and binding” arbitration instead of a lawsuit if there’s a problem. Sagafi points out the people “are volunteering their time and, on top of that, to have to give up their rights if something bad happens to them, like they get injured – that seems particularly unfair.”

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